A review of The Girl on the Pier – and some blathering

Girl on PierAs a rule, I don’t review here on my blog. Doing so would imply posturing as a critic, something more serious than the often casual, personal but considered, thoughts I leave on Amazon, Goodreads and Waterstones’ online presence. However, rules are meant to be broken, and regular visitors will note that I do review from time to time, and the observant amongst you will notice that such reviews tend to cover books by indie authors or those published by smaller houses; the theory being they might need more of a boost. So, today, I’ll talk briefly about a debut novel from acclaimed sports writer, Paul Tomkins, The Girl on the Pier.

I might never have met Paul or read his novel but for a confusion of Brighton addresses, and I am grateful for that minor administrative error. Let me explain. Alongside my fiction, I work as an editor/mentor for developing writers – freelance and for literary consultancy, Cornerstones. Paul hired Cornerstones to look at his novel but a mix up at Cornerstones HQ meant that I received the manuscript instead of another Brighton editor, Araminta Hall. As it happens Araminta is a friend of mine (and author of the best-selling Everything and Nothing and more recently, Dot). Anyway, I was working on another manuscript and had to pass on Paul’s, but the incident connected us. The novel’s intriguing and promising premise stayed with me, and I was delighted when, months later, I received a copy of the novel.

First off, it is an object of great beauty. Cleverly designed with high production values, it is a book to cherish. I have fetish-like tendencies when it comes to books and I love stroking this one – it even has flaps (ahem). So beautiful is it that it came as a surprise when I discovered it is self-published. I emailed Paul to find out the story behind his decision to go down the indie route because I knew there was agent interest in the book and because, bluntly, I’m nosy. But that’s a story for another post.  Possibly …

I rarely read self-published work, not unless it comes highly recommended or I know the author’s work from short-stories or other published work in reputable media. I know that there are some fantastic self-published books out there, but the harsh truth is that there is an awful lot of rubbish and life is too short to wade through the proverbial. This sentiment is shared by many and I might incur the wrath of many for saying this, but hey-ho, it’s only my opinion.

But, I will shout about The Girl on the Pier because it deserves to be heard above the noise (din?), because it is a work of serious intent, well-written and with a fabulous central conceit. Here’s my brief review, and if you’d like to buy the book there are links at the bottom.

Forensic artist Patrick is charged with the reconstruction of the skull of an unidentified girl found on Brighton’s famous West Pier in the 1970s. As he painstakingly reconstructs the girl’s face, memories of a childhood crush surface, blending with obsessive thoughts of a magical night spend on the pier with Black, a beautiful photographer, in the 1990s. An accident means that Patrick loses Black’s telephone number and is unable to trace her, yet he never forgets her or the incredible night they spent together. Abandoned as a boy by his parents and successive lovers, Patrick is an intelligent but damaged man, and as we follow the two mysteries, the lines between fact and personal fiction become increasingly blurred.

Reflective, atmospheric, and written in gorgeous prose The Girl on the Pier is a literary thriller about ghosts from the past, art, disappointment, obsessive love, and the slippery nature of memory. In Patrick, Tomkins has created a seductive and beguiling narrator, one so smooth it takes a while before you might begin to question his version of events. Set mostly in and around Brighton, the now destroyed pier is exquisitely evoked and the story is choc-a-block with intelligent insights. ‘The hardest thing in human existence is to accept that what’s done is done. Death is final. But so too are our actions, each and every last one of them. We can seek to alter the course of where the present is heading, and we can apologise, and try to put right that which we have got horribly wrong. But none of it can change what actually took place.’

It’s common in reviews, especially nowadays and by marketeers, to liken books to others, but I can’t do that with this novel because it isn’t quite like anything I’ve read before.  And this is a very good thing. Commonly, I lean towards faster-paced works but I really liked this book and it made me want to improve my own prose. And what I will say is that if you enjoy well written stories which require a little thought and leave you thinking, then you should enjoy The Girl on the Pier.

Buy the book on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Girl-Pier-Paul-Tomkins/dp/1784621048

Find out more about Paul and his work here: www.paultomkins.com

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